No Joke: New Air Jordan Inspired By Zoot Suits, Wingtips, And Jazz

Nike’s lead footwear designer tells us about creating the 2012 Air Jordan with Jazz-Age styling.

Nike’s 2012 version of their Air Jordan shoe will have wingtips–and what a brilliant pun that is–which we would have all labeled as anachronistic just a few days ago.


“The inspiration from the Zoot Era was important for us–as an anchor to focus on the Audacious, Confident and Daring Style that the Youth and entertainers brought forth during that time,” Nike Senior Footwear Designer Tom Luedecke tells Co.Design. “We see a new wave of this mind-set today. It was a break with tradition, a bold departure from the status quo.”

It’s a hook for what’s maybe the most iconic shoe brand that uses little more than a Jordan icon to brand itself. Luedecke acknowledges that Air Jordans aren’t known for specific design cue carryovers from year to year or decade to decade, like your average Porsche, but are defined by “combining performance and soul” and “attention to the crafted details.”

The new shoe is more modular than its predecessors, with the most premium version ($223) including two for inner sleeves and three new options for midsoles, meaning the shoe can be configured six different ways by play style. Thus, in the days of a hyper-competitive marketplace and increasingly fickle sneaker heads, the Jordan brand/Nike is opting for the strategy of mass customization–something akin to the Nike ID program, but this time, with the very fit of the shoe.

The midsoles are branded to “fly through, fly over, or fly around opponents.” As a consumer, it’s a tough choice to make, inducing the Pokemon “gotta catch ‘em all” syndrome. I don’t even play ball at my local Y, but now I have an extreme compulsion to fly every which way my 12-inch vert will take me. In practical terms, Nike is offering various configurations and shock absorption, suggesting tacitly that every player probably shouldn’t be wearing the same shoe. Whereas a center may be more likely to land somewhat flat-footed (and thereby benefit from “Air Bag” heel to toe air pockets), a point guard flying for the hoop may be more likely to land hard on the heel (and thereby benefit from a “Nike Zoom” in the heel–tensile fibers within a pressurized bladder).

“A modular product allows our athletes to think creatively about their next game or practice, try out a different cushioning system or adjust the product to work for them in very specific situations,” writes Luedecke. “It is performance customization brought to life in footwear and puts the athlete in control of the fit and feel of the product.“

If nothing else, the customization looks fun, though let’s all acknowledge that it’s hard to imagine Dwyane Wade switching out a midsole before the last play of the game. He’s circled with his team around the coach during their final time out, studying a clipboard intently whilst hopping on one foot, sweaty particles of cotton sock dropping on the court while one of those dry mop assistants scurries around him to gather up the tidbits.


But what a fantastic clause it would make in Wade’s next endorsement renewal.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.